Friday, December 18, 2009

Strategic Philanthropy: The new mantra

On one side where strategy is usually understood as a plan of action to achieve specific goals, philanthropy essentially is a symbol of giving, possibly to charity. But these days, there is a buzz in the corporate world, besides Copenhagen. And the new buzzword is Strategic Philanthropy. While Milton Friedman insisted decades ago that the only purpose of existence of the companies is to generate profits for its shareholders, the socially conscious global citizens of 21st century are ready to turn that statement up on its head. In the present times, the shareholders are considered nothing but gamblers in the market whose expectations, if turned into corporate strategy, will translate into Only Profit, Full Stop. But it is good to see that the social awareness is increasingly becoming popular in the corporate sector.

Whereas the Networking Academy initiative by Cisco provides an example of how a corporation can contribute to the social upliftment along with increasing its top line, the shift made by BP from oil based revenues to renewable sources marks the beginning of Sustainable Corporate Practices. These practices challenge the assumptions made by the corporate to earn maximum profits to be able to earn more profits and so on. It gives a fresh perspective and meaning to the business and the way its owners conduct business.

But there is a very disturbing trend that I’ve observed happening in the corporate world. There is an interesting corollary developing between the phase of the company’s operations and the quantum of philanthropy that it gets into. Companies like BP, Philips, Cisco, Microsoft and likes that existed for decades, realized the importance of philanthropy very recently after they reached the maturity stage of their lifecycle. As I mentioned in a previous article as well, philanthropy shouldn’t be focused on creating business for the company, it should be the by-product of a bigger goal. Very few companies like Hershey’s in US and Tata Group in India were established to serve the larger purpose of existence of the business. While capitalism aims to create a social equality by providing everyone an equal opportunity to earn, the difference between the highest and the lowest compensation in some US firms is as high as 400 times! In such a scenario, expecting these executives to spend on selfless philanthropy is a deadly assumption.

At the same time, I do not want to appear like a cynic of the intentions of the corporate houses. I fully support the new corporate funda of giving back to the society but only after ensuring that is has enough to give back to the society. As Michael E. Porter summed it all up in one of his articles in HBR, the companies can position themselves to gain edge over other competitors by strategically implementing their competitive advantage in their CSR measures.

Hence, there is no denying the fact that Strategic Philanthropy will definitely be the future of CSR, provided the corporates do not put the cart before the horse.

Arun Sharma

(Originally published on

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why not to have quota based voting?

This issue popped up in my mind some time back when I heard our new HRD minister Dr. Kapil Sibal talk about having quotas for OBCs in private institutions. It’s not that I was amazed at this U-Turn by Mr. Sibal on the issue of quotas (He was one of the few from government to criticize Arjun Singh’s quota policy.). I have understood by now that you can never trust a politician. But this news item triggered a thought in my mind that when the government is keen to divide the society on the basis of castes, as opposed to what it SHOULD be doing, why doesn’t it allocate a quota to the voting as well?

Here’s a proposition for quota-based voting in India. Let’s have 27% quota for OBCs, 33% for women, 15% for SCs, 10% for Muslims, 5% for Christians and 5% for others. Remaining 5% might be allocated to the General Category but only if Mr. Sibal and his government think that GC are intelligent enough to chose a government. If they decide to move ahead with their existing argument that GC people have EXCESSIVE advantage over other castes and categories of people, they might take away this Extra-ordinary right as well.

But just imagine what will happen after this quota allocation. 27% of the whisky bottles for elections will be distributed among OBCs leading to nation-wide strikes by SCs to increase their quota. The Election Commission of India will issue a charge-sheet against Mr. Lallu for exceeding the quota of SCs and OBCs in his rallies. Mayawati will be awarded the “Best Politician” award for showing most respect towards the quota system and the quickest implementation in her state. Mulayam will be put behind bars for having 25% muslims in his party against the quota of 10%. And BJP will be banned for defying the entire Quota regime. Congress will still remain the Most Secular Party in India with strict adherence to quotas.

So, while the GC citizens will be downgraded to third-class citizens, India will develop as the Most Secular Nation on the planet with Quotas for everyone.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Part 3: Review of Chapter 3: BOP: A Global Opportunity

Working towards providing a solution in real terms for the MNCs to help them target their products at BOP market, Prahalad has taken the first step in this chapter. In this chapter, he has talked about the drawbacks of the existing strategies of the company and the hurdles that they have to cross to tap the largely potential BOP market. In this chapter, he argues about the four sources of opportunity for large firms to invest in BOP markets:
1. Large customer base.
2. Local innovations can be globalized
3. BOP solutions can be used in developed markets
4. BOP markets can change management practices
The first thing that is talked about is the traditional approach of the companies to develop products for the BOP markets. Very truly, Prahalad has argued that the companies have been making some modification here and there and doing some fine-tuning to the products and services for developed markets to serve the BOP markets. This approach is definitely a recipe for failure because the requirements of the BOP customers are different from those of the upper end customers. In such a case, the big firms should find innovative solutions for the BOP customers, which can then be transported to similar markets in the world.
Another advantage of developing solutions specifically for the BOP markets is the innovation required for these products. As mentioned in previous chapters, BOP customers are conscious about value-for-money. So, to cut down the costs exponentially but maintaining the level of service, breakthrough innovations are imperative. As Prahalad says, “The BOP can be a source of innovations for not only products and processes, but business models as well.”
But a major hurdle to the shift in paradigm is the steep learning curve that the firms will have to undergo. As is quoted in the book, “MS Banga, CEO of HLL suggests that the real challenge in BOP markets is that managers have to cope with the “I curve”.” Traditionally, the firms have been following a S-shaped learning curve, but to bring in innovation for serving the BOP markets, they need to pace up the innovation process and the curve has to be a much steeper I-curve.
If the companies are able to cross this hurdle of fast innovation cycle, the resulting innovations could be used not only in the local BOP market, but for similar markets across the globe. Solutions to the BOP problems like Iodine Deficiency Disorder have been served through this approach only where the solution was taken from India to Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tanzania. Similarly, the innovations of Jaipur Foot and Aravind Eye Care have been studied across the world and replicated wherever possible. Apart from the global application of the BOP solutions, these solutions can even be implemented to the upper end of the market because these innovative products provide more value-for-money and ensure lesser wastage of resources.
The major lessons that the MNCs can learn from the BOP markets are
1. Capital Intensity: High R&D and selling expenses can be a big challenge to the current assets of the firms while trying to capture the BOP markets.
2. Sustainable Development: Minimal wastage of resources and continuous strive for higher efficiency are imperative to keep the costs to the minimum.
3. Innovations: “Innovations must become ‘value-oriented’ from the consumer’s perspective. The BOP focuses attention on both the objective and subjective performances of the product or service.”
4. Self Help Groups: Business management skills, technology and contacts can be pushed down to the grassroots level.
In the end, Prahalad emphasizes that through this process of transformation, the large corporate and MNCs will eventually learn to transform their ideals of good corporate citizenship and social responsibility into their core business.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Part 2: Review of Chapter 2: Products and Services for the BOP

The second chapter of the book (CK Prahalad’s “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”) talks primarily about the product innovation strategies that the companies should develop to serve the BOP customers. Prahalad emphasizes the fact that “the basic economics of the BOP market are based on small unit packages, low margin per unit, high volumes and high return on capital employed” as opposed to the top of the pyramid. To make the retailing for BOP consumers feasible, Prahalad suggests that the products and processes need to be developed through the process of innovation. For product innovation, he suggests twelve principles which are briefed below.

1. High price performance or value-for-money
2. Hybrid solutions with cutting edge technologies
3. Scalable and transportable solutions across countries
4. Effective resource utilization
5. Rethinking of functionality
6. Process innovations
7. Deskilling
8. Education to customers by creative media
9. Products for hostile environment
10. Research on interface
11. Accessibility of innovation
12. Rapid feature and functional evolution

Prahalad claims that these twelve principles cover all the industries but every industry might not find every step very useful. So, the companies or organizations that are targeting the BOP markets, should pick and chose the principles that are applicable to their particular industry.
Quite ironically, none of these principles seems to focus on collaboration among the private sector players to provide innovative solution packages to the BOP customers. Collaboration and Co-optation are the two important tools for marketing the products in the BOP markets. A television set cannot be marketed to someone in the Himachal mountains unless there is no electricity and Tv tower. Neither can mobile phone be sold to a person from the rural areas of Orissa where there’s no mobile network available. Mr. Vipul Nair, Consultant, Diamond Consultants said in an interview to UTVi, “…you need electricity to charge your mobile phone, if you want to use it. (But) when electricity has not reached a place, how will the mobile telephony?” So, rather than developing their own supply chains from scratch, companies should collaborate and sell their products through common supply chains. This innovation will definitely help the customers when they will get access to more products, but it’ll increase the efficiencies of the companies as well.
In his elaboration of the first principle, Prahalad mentioned that “Building the savings habit and giving them access to the basic building blocks of financial services must precede providing them with access to low-cost loans or rain and crop insurance.” I completely agree with this point and I pointed this out in the review of the first chapter as well. Rather than sucking the blood out of the poor, BOP customers, the companies should focus on developing the living standards and providing them with jobs, before turning them into potential loyal customers. But sadly, the cart is often put before the horse in the capitalist world.
One issue that I raised in the previous post and that has been further re-emphasized is that issue of defining the BOP market. Prahalad has been referring the entire Indian and entire Chinese market as the BOP market, throughout his literature. On the contrary, when he defined the BOP in the beginning, he defined it on the basis of PPP. How can this irony be resolved? What is the exact size of the BOP market? It’s necessary to know for the companies before venturing into the market.
While talking about the sustainable development, Prahalad says that the MNCs and other big companies are in real dilemma in concern with the packaging problem. The dilemma rises out of the fact that packaging is necessary to preserve the food but recycling is not possible because of poor recollection mechanism. I have a solution for this: The companies should start offering a little discount on the next unit of a product if customer returns the packaging of the previous pack. This will have two benefits. First, the collection will become much easier from the points of sale, rather than collecting them individually from the houses. Second, the customer loyalty to the product will also be maintained and increased. I really believe that this idea can work wonders if implemented properly.
A major anomaly in the explanation of principles is observed where CK Prahalad says that since most of the BOP markets are media black, companies need to find creative ways to educate them about the products. In the previous chapter however, while trying to emphasize that the BOP customers have money to spend, he mentioned that 85% of households living in the slums of Dharavi (Mumbai, India) have Tv at home. I don’t know which fact to trust and how to make an opinion about it.
The major disappointment has occurred from the fact that all the examples in Prahalad’s text revolve around the 7-8 case studies prepared by his students and most of them come from India. Aravind Eye Care, Jaipur Foot, ITC e-choupal, HLL's Shakti and ICICI’s retail banking are the only examples that Prahalad seems to have relied upon for his research. The motive of reading the book from a Harvard professor to get an over-view of the efforts being made by the governments, companies, NGOs and individuals across the globe, has not been fulfilled. But at the same time, it’s a good read for the Indians who did not know that these institutions actually occurred in India and have achieved the levels of innovation that only few in the world have ever achieved.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Part 1. Review of Chapter 1: The Market at the Bottom of the Pyramid

CK Prahalad, in his book “The Fortune At The Bottom Of The Pyramid” has brought up the concept of a socio-economic pyramid according to which the entire society can be divided into five parts or five tiers: Tier 1 where Purchasing Power Parity is more than USD 20,000, Tier 2 and 3 where PPP is in the range USD 15,000 – 20,000, Tier 4 with PPP of USD 1,500 and the lowest segment Tier 5 with PPP less than USD 1,500. Since the population in the Tier 4 and 5 is more double the population in the upper parts of the pyramid, this signifies a huge potential. This segment needs to be tapped, but not in the traditional ways. Prahalad emphasized on the role of the individuals and private sector in this movement that he initiated about 14 years back. Talking of the “inclusive capitalism”, he says, “…private sector competition for this market will foster attention to the poor as consumers.” He also challenges the traditional myth that rural population is primarily poor and the urban population is primarily richer, which, he claims, is not the truth.
Though I completely agree with his philosophy and respect the amount of research that he has put into this book, I still feel that the first chapter has created more questions in my mind than it has answered. In a way, that was disappointing, but at the same time, I think he might have intentionally done so, or maybe my questions will be answered in the subsequent chapters as I read on.
The first conflict that this chapter has created is: Will it do any real sustainable good to the society if we encourage our BOP consumers to spend all that they earn that day? In this chapter, Prahalad has argued that there is enough money at the BOP. He claims that the total GDP of 9 developing countries put together is $13 trillion (PPP adjusted) and that represents a huge potential for big companies and MNCs to invest in. It is true that currently, the BOP population is spending more if adjusted for the poverty penalty, but do we really want to uplift this market segment or try to compete for sucking this market off all the blood it has? If the current income is completely converted into current expenditure, won’t this sector be helpless in times of need? Microfinance and micro-credit have come up as very useful options for the poor, but they do not come in handy for the people who do not use them for creating a personal business. Also, Prahalad says that the poor might not want to spend on sanitation and clean water but they do spend on luxurious items and that’s where the companies should try to tap in. The conflict here is that whether he proposes a social entrepreneurship model or a business entrepreneurship one because the former will try to reverse the situation while the later will try to tap the situation as it is without paying a heal to the overall goodwill of the BOP segment.
The second major issue that I see with Prahalad’s argument on supply chain is: Is it economically viable to sell the products beyond Dharavi slum of Mumbai, India? Though this question has been answered in the book, the argument seems to be rotating only around the big cities which are expected to have the density of urban poor to the tune of 15,000 per hectare by 2015. He has also mentioned about the Shakti project of HLL in India which empowers the women to be entrepreneurs in their own power. But how feasible is it to tap into the markets that are far away from even the nearest towns and are sparsely populated, like the people in the North Eastern states of India or the ones residing in the hills of Himachal Pradesh in India or the ones living in the Siberian desert of Russia. Though they have been counted in the 3 billion strong potential customer base, there is no way the companies can reach there without a support from the government in terms of subsidies and tax exemption. All in all, it doesn’t make an economic sense because those dispersed markets do not have a critical mass to support an economic project. For such markets, we need to come up with some other models that are economically viable in the long run.
The third issue with this chapter is about the confusion that it creates about ITC’s e-choupal program in India. After reading this chapter, it becomes very confusing to decide whether e-choupal is a philanthropic initiative taken by ITC as a part of its CSR or is it a business model as well which is benefitting the farmers to as great an extent as it is doing to ITC. If it’s a philanthropic initiative, I think Prahalad has been a bit confused because he contradicts what his own statement that “charity might feel good, but it rarely solves the problem in a scalable and suitable fashion.” If it’s just a charity, it prevents other companies to compete for technological advances in this sector. But, if it’s a business model as well, no clarification has been given on it in the chapter. I look forward to read about it in the second part of the book that has the case-study on ITC e-choupal.
Though these arguments might seem to be a criticism of the well known professor, arguments like these will certainly end up with a better model for the overall development of the BOP and the entire pyramid.

Arun Sharma

Friday, August 21, 2009

Delhi: A long way to go.

It’s really difficult to understand the relevance of the claims made by Mr. Kalmadi and Ms. Sheila Dixit about ‘successfully’ holding the Commonwealth games in Delhi next year. We do not have the stadia ready to play, we do not have the audience to watch sports apart from Cricket, we do not have the roads to carry the tourists across the city and we do not have the buses to do so. In such a case, how do we make the claims to hold Commonwealth Games in India and are bold enough to bid for Olympics.
A short stint of 4.5 months in Dubai was enough to change my perception on India Shining. A GDP growth rate of 6% and the ability to fight the inflation did not have any impact on the actual condition of India. Through this post, I do not intend to criticize and re-criticize the government for its failure in bringing up the talent to the forefront, but I’ll pick up three most grieving problems faced by Delhi to attract foreign tourists and businesses. I end this blog with three recommendations for the government and the citizens to start the change process and give a speed to it.
The first and the foremost factor is the portrayal of the image of India. I landed at New Delhi IGI Airport and the first sight was old, stressed out baboos sitting at the immigration counter, handling the foreign tourists and creating the proverbial first impression on them. The moment I came out of the airport, the scene outside was even worse. There was a long queue at the pre-paid taxi counter that was shattered itself. After standing in queue for 15 minutes, I got the receipt for the taxi but no taxi number and nobody to tell me where to get the taxi from. As if that wasn’t enough, the taxi itself was in a broken condition with foam coming out of the seats, rear view mirror missing and seat belt just tied at one end. And if you get a chance to travel by train in the morning, you’ll see people doing their chores besides the railway tracks making India the butt of the joke.
The second serious problem faced by Delhi today is the road traffic control system. Delhi-NOIDA express way was created to showcase India’s prowess in the road transportation but despite the wide, high-speed roads, the toll-gate has done the damage by making the cars wait for long times. Though I am proud of the DMRC project in the city, but the traffic hassles that it has been creating for the last 6-7 years have been a major headache. The temporary roads that have been built as bypass to the metro-line have been built in a very bad condition as if the responsibility for travelling on temporary roads lies with the drivers and not with the authorities. At traffic lights, it becomes evident that there’s no lane system existing in Delhi, whatever are the claims of the Delhi traffic control authorities.
Third major problem faced by Delhi is the safety of its citizens, especially at night. Every other day, we read a couple of news of murder in some corner of Delhi or a rape in the other. Night life is pathetic, to say the least, in Delhi and the only reason is the security issue. People don’t feel safe to come out of their houses at night, even for a walk. And foreigners are the least protected of the entire lot because of their naiveté about India.
Given these basic problems, apart from the administrative, bureaucratic and sports issues, how does Delhi claim to be in control of the situation and sure enough to be able to hold the Commonwealth games in 2010?
Coming to the solution part, there are three basic things that Delhi needs to focus on, rather than beating around the bush with same old policies leading to absolutely nowhere.
The first thing that Delhi needs is the role clarity between the Center government’s responsibilities and the State government’s. Not long ago, the state and central governments were from different parties and one could see a constant blame game going on between the two for the responsibilities of the safety of citizens, public transportation, power supply, water supply and other basic infrastructural facilities. Even now, it’s not clear whether the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) needs to tighten the state government for certain facility requirements or the Center govt. Before we move on to ensure a Developed Delhi, we need to sit for a while and draw clear lines of responsibilities.
The second important step to be taken by the Indian government is to ensure a better road network and a planned expansion of the same. Just like the Andhra Pradesh government, Delhi govt needs to take some bold steps to expand the road network within the city at a much faster pace than it has been doing. Roads in Old Delhi need to be broadened and new roads to be added, even if it means purchasing the land from the residents of the area. The Delhi-Gurgaon flyover system was planned to take on the traffic for next 20 years, but it has already been clogged up with traffic jams and long queues. Proper traffic planning needs to be put into place before mindlessly creating new roads. The BRTS system has faced so much resistance from the local public because this system created another barrier in the already bad traffic condition of the capital. A centralized support system for the public transportation should be set in place to help the non-residents of Delhi. In the nutshell, the master plan for the city or Delhi Vision 2020 should be created for Delhi and every department should be aligned to work towards the same.
My last recommendation to the Delhi government will be to shift as fast as possible from the man-oriented governance system to e-governance. I really appreciate the Bhagidari initiative of Delhi govt. under the supervision of Ms. Sheila Dixit, but this initiative needs to be more inclusive in approach. E-governance should not only be focused at the citizens or residents of Delhi, but it should also be targeted at making the stay of the tourists as comfortable as possible. E-governance should help the citizens to fill in the bills online, file complaints against public offices, get to know the bus routes, know about the decisions of the government, know about the plans for Delhi’s development, rules and regulations prevalent in Delhi and other needed support for the residents of and visitors to Delhi.
I think these three solutions will form the base for the Delhi government to start its further development towards proving itself as the capital of the next super-power of the world. Once developed in Delhi, the same model can also be implemented in other cities in India that suffer the problems similar to New Delhi’s.
But before putting it all on the government, I must say that nothing can be fruitful if the citizens of the country will not support the system. Any initiative of the government needs an encouragement and acceptance in right spirit by the residents. Only then will we be able to create a Shining Delhi and Shining India.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Opportunity at the Bottom of the Pyramid ???

Opportunity at the Bottom of the Pyramid – CK Prahalad proposed the idea and many of us cashed upon it. The “Business Pandits” of the world like Mr. Prahalad, say that the opportunity exists in emerging markets like India and there too, in the rural markets of India. My point of dissatisfaction with this approach is with treating the rural population as target market and not as a means to ensure a fair distribution of wealth.
The major indicator of India’s financial intents is the Annual Budget of India. The Finance Minister of India, Mr. Pranav Mukherjee presented the budget on 6th July 10, 2009 and spelled out a budget that clearly revolved around the single point agenda of the upliftment of the Bottom of The Pyramid. Increased allocations for JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) and NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) are just a few indicators of this approach. Another important step taken by government is to subsidize the communication infrastructure set-up in rural India to ensure a faster reach.
Any considerate citizen of India would’ve appreciated this approach of India, Inc. to pave a path for the rural population of India to reap the same benefits as the urban population. Infosys Chief Mentor, Mr. Narayan Murthy appreciated the Finance Minister by saying, “heart of the UPA is in Inclusive Growth.”1 Through budget focus on agricultural growth by fertilizer policy and credit availability to the farmers at low interest rate, it has been tried to create an equated society of India.
But then why at the end of the day, Sensex (Bombay Stock Exchange Index) fell by 6% in a single day? And why has every other person from the industry criticized the approach adopted by Indian government? Why has the approach of India to make a rich brother help his poor brother been criticized by the “Industry Experts”? Why did The Wall Street Journal regard this budget as “A Budget for Second-Tier Developing Nation”2 ? Why would The Financial Times pass judgments about the Finance Minister by saying, “one would expect him to at least balance the politics”3 ?
I see only one reason for this – Expectation of immediate gains. In May alone, the FII to the Bombay Stock Exchange went up by $ 4.14 bn4 on the hopes of immediate gains when their economies back home were not stable and needed the cash badly for revival. But excess “money attracts more money” is the rule. So, the business logic makes sense only when it adds to itself – doesn’t matter what the country needs. And they expected Indian government to pave a path for them to realize their short term objectives, which obviously did not happen and the stock markets plummeted.
There is a major problem with the idea that all these organizations agree with – the fact that the “Opportunity lies at the Bottom of the Pyramid” where everybody looks at them just as potential customers. Several NGOs work at the grassroot level to take the benefits of government policies to the real beneficiaries. Not to miss out that the corporate also contribute to this, but only from a single perspective of “Tapping the untapped markets” or being “Prime-movers in markets of no-competition”. Never has any business organization thought about the welfare of the society in general and not as customers.
Why I am so against the “mutual benefit” theory of the Corporate Social Responsibility? The reason is that there is always an Information Asymmetry in Urban-Rural interaction and hence, there cannot be an equal “mutual benefit” for the corporates and rural population. And in such a case, it is the prerogative of the government to provide essential infrastructure to the rural population (and urban poor) to bring them at par.
So, the opportunity indeed lies at the bottom of the pyramid but let’s not consider them just a Market but a part of the family that we left behind in the run for money.


1 “FM did a good job: Narayana Murthy”, The Economic Times,
2. “A Budget for a Second-Tier Developing Nation”, By PAUL BECKETT, JULY 6, 2009, The Wall Street Journal,
3. “India’s Budget lacks a reform agenda”, By John Elliott, July 6 2009, The Financial Times,
4. “India is now flooded with $1billion per week”, by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, June 7, 2009, The Times of India

Copyright © 2009, Arun Sharma. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility: The Change Mechanism

During a training session, the trainer asked us to close our eyes and think about a machine. He asked us to think about its surroundings, its vicinity, the people around it and everything else around it. Then he asked us to open our eyes and tell him what each one of us saw. All of us had different answers for the machines but the answer for its vicinity was the same – a factory churning out smoke and filthy water. When asked about the people in the vicinity, most of us saw workers working on those machines in heat and sweat, but the owners sitting in air-conditioned rooms supervising the work from there.
I am not of the view that the companies have not changed from this scenario to a much better one, but what has not changed is the perception of a factory in the minds of the people. A common man still believes that a business house can never do any good to the mankind and the owners of the companies care only about the profits. To some extent this is true as well. To change this perception of the people about the companies, the leading business houses of the world have pioneered to become Corporate Citizens and perform Corporate Social Responsibility.
Bringing about a sudden change in the minds of people is very difficult. And what’s even tougher is to measure the magnitude of change that the efforts have brought about. For instance, it is difficult to measure how many voters in India voted due to the awareness created by Jaago Re campaign by Tata Tea. Similarly, it is not possible to measure the amount of Critical Thinking induced in the students of New York City by the iSchool initiative of Cisco.
So, how should the companies change the perception of people about the companies? I propose a three step process:
• Work with and work for the people
The mission statement of Shell reads as ‘To safely market and distribute energy and petrochemical products while offering innovative value added services.’ Similarly, the vision statement of Citi Institutional Consulting says, ”We believe that excellence in consulting requires client advocacy and stewardship, a passion for leading-edge investment solutions and the delivery of experienced consulting services in a way that helps us exceed our clients’ expectations every day.”1 Though there’s nothing wrong with this mission and vision, but none of them talks about the environment that they are operating in or the people whose lives are being affected by their operations but who are not their ‘clients’. To transform into a responsible Corporate Citizen, the first step is to orient the company towards a people-oriented organization that works to solve the problems of the society. For instance, the vision of Philips Electronics is, “In a world where complexity increasingly touches every aspect of our daily lives, we will lead in bringing sense and simplicity to people.”2

• Empower the down-trodden, don’t pity them
It has always been a notion among the people to HELP the down-trodden sector of the society as a part of the CSR initiative. Many organizations do this through donations to charities, direct donation to the people and sponsorship programs. But sadly, this category of initiatives doesn’t do any good to the society in the long run. Infact, they lay a foundation for a dependent community and hence a dependent country. As Ms. Sharmila Katre puts it, Corporate Social Responsibility is about empowerment, and does not mean ‘giving’ but ‘encouraging, developing, nurturing and sustaining’.3 Initiatives like ‘Cloth for Work’ and ‘School to School’ run by Goonj.. ( in New Delhi are perfect examples of the type of CSR programs that should be executed by the corporate houses. These will not only empower the people at the bottom of the pyramid but also create a potential customer base or atleast a valid referral for the companies and thereby act as powerful change agents for the perception change discussed earlier in the article.

• Build a brand, not a trademark
Companies need to be very careful in assessing the impact of the projects taken up by them or the business deals undertaken by them. It takes years to build a brand that represents trust and confidence but one wrong move brings the process of change to a halt. Tata, for example, is undoubtedly the most trusted brand in India and represents the most philanthropic business house- Tata Sons. But Greenpeace International has claimed that the port being built by Tata Steel at Dhamra is a serious threat to the turtles’ nesting grounds and the issue has been done a serious damage to the image of Tatas in India.4 So, while trying to bring about a change in the perceptions of people, the organizations should carefully select the projects keeping all the stakeholders in confidence and working for the mutual benefit for all of them.
Corporate Social Responsibility as a business model is still in its nascent stages and is a developing form of business. Still, the seriousness of the regulatory bodies all over the world, the legislations and the corporate governance policies of the governments indicate that CSR will emerge as the major agent of change for the corporate image.

1. ‘Mission, Vision and Values’, Citi Institutional Consulting,
2. ‘Vision and Strategy’, Koninklijke Philips Electronics,
3. ‘CSR - Philanthropy or Empowerment’, by Sharmila Katre, Published on 'Third Eyesight' at
4. ‘Don't let TATA terminate the turtles’, Greenpeace India,

Copyright © 2009, Arun Sharma. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Art of Loving

Ah! So finally here’s a topic that’s close to my heart and hopefully yours as well- The Art of Loving. Love is a word that has different connotation for everyone. It might be the smile of a dear friend for one while it can be the blessings of the parents for the other. Love might be a lot of money for me but for you, it might be a smiling baby calling you Maa. And pretty obviously, love for a teenaged guy can be the girlfriend (or girlfriends, whichever is applicable!) or the boyfriend (if you are in US!). Don’t the Emotions seem to have one thing in common- the power of defying the logic? Why is love not logical? Why is it an Art?
Before we discuss why is Love an Art, let’s try to understand Art first. R.G. Collingwood was of the view that “art expresses emotions, and that the work of art therefore essentially exists in the mind of the creator.” Emotions are the outputs of complex algorithms running in billions of the neurons in our minds interacting with each other through trillions of dendrites sending electric pulses that represent the impact of the previous experiences and the state of mind. Huh! But what is Art? Collingwood has already said that “Art expresses emotions.” So, in effect, Art is the output on canvas, of complex algorithms running in billions of the neurons in our minds interacting with each other through trillions of dendrites sending electric pulses that represent the impact of the previous experiences and the state of mind. Wow! Now when we know what an art is, let’s try to find out why is love an art?
Not that quick buddy, there are some more questions lined up for you. Don’t worry, you’ll find your answers from these questions only. Why do you cross countries for just a kiss? (Trust me, people do that!) Have you ever noticed a mother talking to her infant baby in babbles that have no meaning at all in Logical terms, but still Loving it to the best? Isn’t it easy to say those three words (“I Love You”) to girlfriend than your wife? (Married readers will agree with me.) Now the million dollar question: Why is Love an Art? And why did I choose my topic as The Art Of Loving? Try answering the questions above and discuss it with your friend and you’ll find some different answer, for sure. And that’s the reason we do not have 2+2=4 in love. In love, 2+2 can be 8 (naughty minds!) or 2. Love amplifies itself when its receiver- the heart- receives the positive signals. Love develops an unknown connection with someone whom you never knew and didn’t have any prior information about. Love isn’t a technology that you can buy and use. Neither is it a science where you can calculate the right amount of smile and the body language that you would use to develop a particular kind of relation with someone (not necessarily the opposite sex). Love is abstract and love is shapeless. It has no boundaries, no definitions and no characteristics. It happens at the click of a moment and then lives there deep in your heart forever.
And that it happens to everyone in different ways, is the reason why it’s an art.

Copyright © 2009, Arun Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 23, 2009

Go and Vote

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Criminals Please!!!

A brilliant campaign by Times of India- LeadIndia, has forced me to tell you people about it. For long period now, we've been crying about the fate of India whose administration is governed by a group of criminals, black-marketeers, uneducated but cunning politicians. But when was the last time when we realised that the reason for this entire thing was none other than we ourselves? Had we opted to vote for the right person, or atleast to vote, the situation would've been entirely different. I am really amazed to find that all political parties have been tying to vow the youth power this time and this was predicted atleast 5-10 years back that India will be a nation of youth by 2010. This clearly signifies that the youth of this country have to take up the responsibility now to take this nation ahead of all the other super-powers of the world. And that's possible only if our policies are in place which in turns depends upon the people who formulate them.
As the campaign has put it very rightly that we don't expect the political parties to put up statesmen to govern us but the least they can do is to prevent criminals from entering the politics. I don't know about other parts of the country, but my state Punjab has a tainted chief minister and deputy chief minister and I'm very ashamed of this. These crorepatis have accumulated so much of wealth using corrupt means and methods. But still we vote for them and never care about how they create the policies for our benefit and development. It's high time that we wake up and let them know that they don't deserve to be our representatives any more.
I urge everyone of you to be a part of this campaign and spread the word to everyone around you.
Every Vote Counts!

Friday, February 27, 2009

TATA Jagriti Yatra 2008

I came to know about the Yatra from an official communication mail from the Corporate and I was impressed by the idea as soon as I saw the details on their website. The idea was to take 350 guys (and girls, ofcourse) in the age-bracket of 18-25 years from all over India to 18 role models spread over 12 cities across the length and breadth of the country on a train in 18 days. It seemed nothing short of a Herculean task to me because the things that can go wrong outnumbered the optimistic opinions by huge margins. But then again, it was a challenge that I was ready to accept. I knew that this is the best chance that God has given me to go around the country and to have more fun on the way, he gave me the option of choosing my company from among 349 other people- girls, boys, Marathi, Bangla, Tamils, Telugu, Punjabis, Delhites, Gujjus, scientists, journalists, entrepreneurs, Radio Jockeys, Teachers, engineers- all kinds of people. And my intuition was right, this Yatra proved to be life-changing in more than one ways. We started off from Mumbai, went to Trivandrum, then Kanyakumari, Pudduchery, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Bhubneshwar, Jamshedpur, Lucknow, Delhi, Tilonia, Anand and back to Mumbai. Meetings with several role models, interacting with the organizing team, talking to the other yatris and discussing the issues of national importance changed the perspective of looking at life. For the first time, I realized how important is the Bottom of the Pyramid talked about by CK Prahlad (in Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid). People are fighting through their lives to provide cloth to the poor, to create business models for the needed, to create self-reliant economies, to preserve water, to preserve wild-life and greenery, to kill the dependence of rural India on urban India. There was a lot to see and a lot to learn.
A journey that began as an experiment and that finished with an imprint in the pages of history, was the journey of a lifetime for the yatris. From Kanyakumari in the south to New Delhi in the north and from Jamshedpur in the east to Tilonia in the west, the TATA Jagriti Yatra sent the message across India that Youth is the power of today and tomorrow. Not only did it bring like-minded people from as diverse backgrounds as scientists to radio jockeys, from politicians to automotive engineers, from cardiologists to social entrepreneurship students and from businessmen to social workers, together, it also enthused our morales to an unprecedented high. During the course of the Yatra, we knew that we were being changed as human beings, changed as citizens and changed as entrepreneurs. On one side where we saw R Elango from Kuttumbhakam village in Chennai working day in and day out to develop a localized self-reliant economy of villages, Anshu Gupta on the other side, was witnessed struggling hard to reach out through his organization Goonj.. to the poorest of the poor to cover their naked shivering bodies with clothes deemed to be useless. Even Dr. V from Arvind Eye Hospital at Puducherry never retires to inspire the spirit of watching India from the eyes of all Indians and Bunker Roy never pauses to provide the poor with the skill to earn food in the deserts of Rajasthan by means of his Barefoot College at Tilonia. Yatris found the story of Tata Steel and JUSCO to be as intriguing as the enthusiasm of Joe Madiath working in the tribes of Orissa. Apart from learning the key themes of self-reliance, perseverance, focused approach and economic viability, Yatra also gave me an opportunity to know the people of India from so close. We lived in the train, ate at the platforms, bathed in the washrooms, danced in the chair-cars and enjoyed every bit of it. TATA Jagriti Yatra has given me the opportunity to shed my inhibitions towards the social entrepreneurship and has given a direction and focus to my life. At 09:40 am on 11th Jan 2009 at Mumbai Central, when the train receded to its yard for the one last time, not to be seen again with the Yatra, tears trickled down the eyes of the Yatris. Wet eyes bid a final see-off to the Yatra with a promise to be the Yatris forever, to be the learners forever and to be the agents of change. For ever.

(For you guys, I’d strongly suggest you to be a part of the Yatra next time. And guess what! I have been nominated to the Communications team and given the charge for Punjab and J&K for the NGO’s activities. The NGO is Jagriti. Go to for more information.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Naandi Foundation

A unique foundation in itself, Naandi Foundation in Bangalore seems to work with a motto of “Serve and survive.” Led by Manoj Kumar since 2000, Naandi focuses on three major issues of Child Rights, Safe Drinking Water and Sustainable Livelihoods. During the visit at one of their largest kitchens in Asia, serving more than 1.5 lakh students every day on an average, we witnessed the optimized use of technology in meeting the purpose. The success story of the Naandi foundation can be adjudged from the fact that in just about 10 years of its foundation, it has spread its wings across India. The best thing about the interaction with Manoj Kumar was his clear direction and motive to have a session with us. “I agreed to have this session with 350 young entrepreneurs, not because of charity but because I hope atleast 200 of you will join the foundation…,” said Manoj. His determination of not doing anything small is shared by his team in full faith. The beauty of the Naandi foundation is that is works as a corporate and hates to call itself an NGO. Just like any other corporate, it has a focus on sustainability of business, scalability- horizontal and vertical, and earning profits. It pays its volunteers at par with the corporate world and yet, is open to any kind of scrutiny by the government. Meeting the people at Naandi emboldened my view of the difference between a Social and a Business entrepreneur – it is just the motive and the aim that differentiates the two. Whereas a Social Entrepreneur earns money and finds means to distribute it in the society, a Business Entrepreneur earns money and finds ways to multiply it.

(Visit for more information on the organization.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Arindham Choudhary on Slumdog Millionaire

A phony poseur that has been made only to mock India for the viewing pleasure of the First World!!
The emperor's new clothes! That's "Slumdog Millionaire" for you… Five minutes into this celebrated patchwork of illogical clichés and you are struck by the jarring dialogues. The cumbersome delivery in a language which doesn't come naturally to most of the actors sounds like someone scratching on walls with one's finger nails; it ruins the possibility of a connection… Had this film been made by an Indian director, it would've been trashed as a rotting old hat, which literally stands out only because of its stench, but since the man making it happens to be from the West, we're all left celebrating the emperor's new clothes. The film borrows an undoubtedly interesting narrative style – from films like "City of God" – but then uses it to weave in a collection of clichés from the Third World's underbelly for the viewing pleasure of a First World audience. The real slumdog in the movie is not the main protagonist but India as a whole… The makers and those celebrating this movie's hard-to-spot brilliance are actually serving up India as the accidental millionaire, which in fact happens to be a slumdog… and like shameless fools we are gloating over its success without realising that it makes a caricature out of India.
The film does not have the sincerity and honesty of a "Salaam Bombay" or a "City of Joy" and nor does this slime covered fairy tale have the integrity or the rootedness of the above mentioned scripts, or even a "Shantaram" for that matter; the soundtrack and the performance of the child actors are the only bits in the film which live up to the hype. The real slumdogs who've hit the jackpot after wallowing in acres of human waste are the makers of this film who are now raking in millions while those court jesters who've critiqued the film and showered tributes and awards need to ask themselves why, scores of years after our independence, they still feel the need to suck up to the gora sahibs. It's not a question of xenophobia… it's definitely a well cinematographed film… but the film has no soul, especially after little Jamal has jumped off the train and become a teenager… The rest of the film is just a modern version of the West's view of India where slums, slumdogs and Bollywoodian clichés have replaced the elephants and snake charmers. It's a well made caricature of a country and a caricature can never be a Mona Lisa, for a masterpiece can't be one dimensional juxtaposition of sadistic extremes… and that's my grouse with the celebrations…
And I say all this not because I don't know what is India. I know its poverty and the real statistics around it a little better than most others – especially the Indian film critics who have given "Slumdog…" an average of 4 to 4.5 stars! But the fact is that the film's entire narration seems like the germination of a terribly sadistic and complex mind with the sole aim of satisfying the western idea of India – and its new found growth instincts at their cost - and it is done through a combination of illogical happenings in order to show everything in a disgustingly negative vein. Not that it doesn't exist, but it surely doesn't exist in this fictitious manner. While "Salaam Bombay" had realism, "Slumdog…" is just every scrap of dirt picked up from every corner and piled up together to try and hit back at the growing might of India. And the awards almost seem like a sadistic effort to show the world – look we knew that this was India, and these are the slumdogs we are outsourcing our jobs to. It stinks of racial arrogance and it's such a shame now on second thought to see the Indian faces – including that of the undoubted master, AR Rahman - celebrating its success. There is nothing positive about the film and it seems that a deranged sadist has painted his insecure negative self in each and every character of the movie. It illogically shows every negative thing about India happening in the protagonist's life... slums, open-air lavatories, riots, underworld, prostitution, brothels, child labour, begging, blinding and maiming of kids to make them into 'better beggars', petty peddlers, traffic jams, irresponsible call centre executives… everything apart from western pedophiles roaming around in Indian streets!! And its winning of so many awards and nominations only goes on to prove strongly that the paradigm of cinema and recognition of films are in the hands of a few retarded imperialistic minds. It's a crying shame that our media hasn't seen through this ruse and is touting "Slumdog's" nominations to claim that India is shining at the Oscars, while in fact it is lauding a film that mocks and ridicules the idea of 'India', pigeonholing its identity into the straitjacket of depraved poverty for a global audience.
When the West wanted Indians to embrace them and their companies to come to India and capture the lucrative markets, suddenly we had all the Indian women, some very beautiful and some not necessarily so, winning all the Miss Universe and Miss Worlds. Today, they are in a crisis and India is looking unstoppable despite its slums and poverty, and they are losing their businesses to us. Isn't it the best time to paint India as the Slumdog Millionaire?? All in all, the film is nothing but an endorsement of an erstwhile imperial mindset of the West and its blinkered vision of India. An English master has made an Indian slumdog. Don't even waste your time watching this film in the theatres. It sucks and there is nothing great in it as a film too. Amitabh Bachchan was spot on when he said that Bollywood has made far better mainstream films. Take out a DVD of one of his old films instead…

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Praise from all sectors of the world for the Slumdog Millionare was so greedily picked up by every media channel and newspaper as if the movie has made India proud in the world. Three awards for AR Rehman were being triumphed on Tv channels as if it’s the first time he has created such class music. We always fail to understand and absorb the fact that what the western world likes is India poverty, crime and riots. They love to see unruly India with children blinded and handicapped to be forced towards beggary and girls raised for prostitution. And when they see this in a movie, they get overwhelmed by another scene that says, “Now you see the true America” and the American lady hands over a $100 bill to the boy who just showed them “real India”.
Are we that bad? Yes, the movie is actually lived by lakhs of children in India. Yes, India has lawlessness. Yes, India is poor. But is this the only part of India? Don’t we have the likes of Ratan Tata and Sunil Bharti Mittal? Don’t we have Mahatma Gandhi and Manmohan Singh? Don’t we have Taj Mahal and Imam Bara? We are lucky to be the generation to witness the businesses flourishing and India Shining. And we are fortunate to be able to make that change. And then you see again this India being highlighted world-over and the hard-work gone into changing the image of India, goes down the drain.
When will we become aggressive in improvising our image in the world? When will we slap the faces of these “pieces of art” that tear apart the dreams of young India?
It’s the time for us to rise and show our unity against this effort to tarnish the image of India and show the world that this is not the only India that exists.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A night in the train

After having an amazing experience of the tribes of Bhubaneshawar who had their own Bio-gas plants and solar panels fitted on their roofs, we reached the small station just outside the main-city of Bhubaneshwar. It was already very late and everyone felt very sleepy after around 12 hours of journey over the day. By 12 at night, everyone was in their beds having a sound sleep relieved of all the tensions and giving rest to those loudly singing throats of theirs. And then something happened that was least expected to happen on the journey. A boy named Piyush (usually found in shining red and black shirts) came running to all the boggies to “awaken” us from our metaphorical sleeps as well as our practical sleeps. All of us were shocked because no Indian train can ever cover the long distance from Bhubneshwar to Jamshedpur in 2 hours. And that’s when the shinning boy announced, “Arun, Lee, utho. Train is going for inspection.” Everyone was once again baffled and the laziness of the sleep was gone at once with a thought crossing the minds, “Has Jagriti Yatra also been targeted by the terrorists? Are we that famous? Did LeT really take note of this unique Yatra (by this time, we were sure that the Yatra is ‘unique’)?” Amidst all this hue and cry, we were told by some divine voice that you can use the First Class Waiting Room to sleep for 2 hours and the train was supposed to be back by then. The moment we came out of the train, our astonishment new no end when we saw the Bhubneshwar board in front of our eyes. “What the F**k! We are still in Bhubneshwar”, was the voice that I listened from very close proximity. And our fate had lots and lots for us in store that we were yet to explore. The First Class Waiting Hall was nowhere to be found in that haze of eyes or weather, I don’t remember. And when we finally found it, we realized that the room (not actually a hall, as the name suggests) is big enough to adjust only tens of us and not hundreds. Thank God that this realization came very soon and we found a cozy spot on the platform. And then there were a number of Dostanas happening here and there on the platform with people trying their best to fight with mildly cold morning winds and stretch their blankets to cover ‘almost all’ parts of the body. And true to the spirit of the Yatra, train was back on the track in just five and a half hours at 7:30 in the morning. But this gave me a chance to accompany our Bengali-Bihari friend Siddharth to the nearby dhaba and have his favorite Bengali mithai whose name I don’t remember any more because of its complicacy.

That’s how we spent one of those memorable nights in the train during the Yatra. It was amazing experience to see 350 young people from across India enthused with the potential and motivation to change the country, brought together by Jagriti Yatra and made to sleep on the platform of Bhubneshwar!

Jokes apart, I really enjoyed that experience and I know that you’ve similar feelings about the Yatra.

Yaaro chalo, badalne ki rut hai,Yaaro chalo, sanwarne ki rut hai…

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Anshu Gupta- the name instills a feeling of respect and gratitude towards him from the deepest of the heart. He’s not only a so-called “Social Worker” or the founder of the NGO called ‘Goonj..’, but he’s also a husband, a son and a father. He’s a common man just like any one of us but yet so special than any one of us. The story that he tells by himself is that of his journalism days when he searched for a story to prove his credibility. This search of a story led him to meet a poor guy dragging a trolley which bore a line in red paint “Police ka laash dhone waala.”(Deadbody carrier for police). As intriguing it might sound to you, it did to Anshu and he thought he got his story. Never did he ever imagine in his wildest dreams that he’s got his life. He went on to ask Hamid about his job and found out that he picked up the unclaimed bodies from across Delhi and carried them to the police crematorium. What he got as a salary was Rs. 20 and 2 yard piece of cloth for every dead body that he brought. But Hamid went on to tell Anshu that in winters, his business reached its peak and often, he’s not able to handle the amount of work he has on-hand. On asking his little daughter’s opinion on his father’s (Hamid) work, she said, “Mujhe thand lagti hai to main laash se lipat kar so jaati hun kyunki laash karvat nahi badalti. Ye mujhe tang nahi karti.” (When I feel cold, I wrap around the dead body because it doesn’t move. It doesn’t disturb me.)
Such was the impact of this thrilling experience on Anshu that he left his job and went on to create a bridge between the two shores of the river. He found it amazing that the city of Delhi that had all the power of the nation was so helpless to serve its own people who came to it for filling up the empty stomachs. The motivation took Anshu to the remotest parts of India only to learn that donating clothes to the shivering farmer is not the solution to the problem. The solution is to enable him to earn his clothes. With this learning, he started many programs of building houses, schools, drainage, toilets and many more projects and made people to proudly earn their clothes. Besides, his organization works towards uplifting the health condition of women in their gynecological problems, esp during menses.
This man never stops inspiring the youth to join him in the efforts to make the society more equitable at the cost of “waste”.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jagriti Yatra 08-09

A journey that began as an experiment and that finished with an imprint in the pages of history, was the journey of a lifetime. From Kanyakumari to New Delhi and from Jamshedpur to Tilonia, this Yatra sent the message across India that Youth is the power of today and tomorrow. Not only did it bring people from as diverse backgrounds as scientists to radio jockeys, from politicians to automotive engineers, from cardiologists to social entrepreneurship students and from businessmen to social workers, together, it also enthused their morales to an unprecedented high. They knew that the Yatra has changed them as human beings, changed them as citizens and changed them as entrepreneurs. On one side where Elango is working day in and day out to develop a localised self-reliant economy of villages, Ashu Gupta on other side is struggling hard to reach out to the poorest of the poor to cover their naked shivering bodies with clothes deemed to be useless. Even Dr. V never retires to inspire the spirit of watching India from the eyes of all Indians and Bunker Roy never pauses to provide the poor with the skill to earn food in the deserts of Rajasthan. Yatris found the story of Tata Steel to be as intriguing as the enthusiasm of Joe Madiath working in the tribes of Orrisa.
At 09:40 am on 11th Jan 2009 at Mumbai Central, when the train receded to its yard for the one last time, not to be seen again with the Yatra, tears trickled down the eyes of the Yatris. Wet eyes bid a final see-off to the Yatra with a promise to be the Yatris forever, to be the learners forever and to be the agents of change. For ever.